Ridgeland — Work site marketing is one of the insurance industry’s latest buzzwords, and that’s what Professional Benefits Communications Inc. does. Better known as PBCI, the firm has also affiliated with the Omni Group to further diversify its services. The official name is PBCI/Omni Group.
President Mark Canterbury has been in the business for 20 years and believes in diversification. “We try to do something besides just sell insurance. We want to add value to what we do,” he said. “There is so much competition in the insurance business now with banks getting into insurance, you have to diversify to stay in business.”
To that end, his company will open a property and casualty side and concentrate on getting more into employee benefits. They are presently a work site marketing company that sells supplemental insurance, function as a broker for specialty insurance, does third-party administration for premium distribution, manage a computer purchase program for employees through payroll deduction and communicate benefits to employees.
“We have a unique cafeteria plan and use a debit card for reimbursement. That’s real hot right now and is our claim to fame,” said Canterbury. “We were one of the first to come out with that.”
The popular reimbursement debit card for health insurance allows employees to participate who could not afford to pay medical costs up front and wait for a reimbursement. The debit card is used with authorized providers and there are no claims to file.
“Participation in the cafeteria plan has tripled everywhere we’ve put the debit card in,” he added. “It can also be used for childcare and dependent care if the providers accept it, or it can be used to electronically transfer funds into a checking account within 24 hours.”
Noting that employee benefits are involving less and less paperwork, Canterbury thinks health savings accounts (HSAs) and health reimbursement accounts (HRAs) will also use debit cards. He sees them as a part of the future, consumer driven and good ways to save on the costs of health insurance.
“Consumers can shop healthcare and spend their own money,” he said. “I don’t see an end to rising costs, but HRAs and HSAs will make an impact and help with costs.”
This benefits communicator says more communication and education of benefits between employers and employees would improve the system. Sitting down and explaining benefits to employees one-on-one is part of PBCI’s work site marketing. They also create benefits statements, something more companies are doing, often with a special software package.
“More access to benefits and more information about them would cut down on a lot of work problems. It would reduce the turnover rate at companies,” he says. “Only two or three workers out of 10 really understand their benefits. I see people jumping jobs because of that.”
As an example, he cites a trucking company owner paying drivers 18 cents per mile but providing the best benefits package he’s ever seen. Another trucking company owner offers 20 cents per mile, and a lot of drivers jump to that company without realizing there are no benefits offered.
“Many companies don’t take the time to explain benefits to employees, and it can make a difference in retention,” Canterbury said. “We will do this because we try to do something besides just sell insurance.”
PBCI/Omni Group has about 55 accounts at this time. Among them are Delta Pride Catfish, Jackson Municipal Airport, Our Lady of the Lake Hospital in Baton Rouge with 4,000 employees and the Mississippi Department of Mental Health with 8,000 employees.
The firm also handles benefits enrollments by bringing in part-time employees. Canterbury says this method works well for retired women and mothers of young children who don’t want to work full time.
When asked about getting into the insurance business, he suggested having a strong computer background. Before forming PBCI, Canterbury worked for Southern Farm Bureau in data processing and sold computers for Texas Instruments.
“The insurance business isn’t what it used to be. Everything is computer driven now,” he explains. “We look up clients on Web sites and only enroll on laptops. Plus, everyone wants e-mail now instead of phone calls so they will have a record.”
Canterbury is glad he has a computer background but acknowledges that people skills are still important even though many employees go online to enroll in benefits. He sees the advantage of access to information 24 hours a day and taking work off human resources people.
“But I also believe people may not understand benefits as well as they do when it’s explained to them one-on-one,” he added. “There’s no substitute for that.”
Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at email@example.com.